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Performers Preserve a Legacy of Violence in Red

Nigerian artist Jelili Atiku sparks a dialogue about violence, humanity, and extinction.

Material Effects is a major exhibition at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University that features contemporary artists from West Africa and the diaspora. The exhibited works explore the social and political roles of objects in contemporary society through a variety of media, inluding sculpture, painting, video art, and most notably, performance art. One of the artists involved is Jelili Atiku, a Nigerian performance artist whose work has a distinct tie into human rights and justice. According to his website, he strives “to help viewers understand the world and expand their understanding and experiences, so that they can activate and renew their lives and environments.” His work is strong and exuberant, utilizing provocative spectacles, frightening sounds and body language, and striking costumes to spark a dialogue amongst his viewers about the violence that the human race causes and endures.

Jelili Atiku, Red Day (In the Red #17), 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 7, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

For Material Effects, Atiku presents In The Red, a performance art piece whose 17th installment was performed at the museum on November 7, 2015 (earlier iterations have included one in his home town Ejigbo, about which a short documentary was made). “In The Red addresses the subject of global warfare and violence, and the human impulses behind these ugly events,” Atiku tells The Creators Project. “Unquantifiable amounts of blood have been spilled on this earth; thus, humanity is mummified in red and jumps in horror here and there. In The Red adopts and uses the shroud, the color red, and historical and contemporary narratives of war as materials that symbolize life, suffering, danger and destruction... The project believes that by lending voice to the psychological and physical effects of these moments, it becomes clear that humanity in our modern era is veering down the path of extinction.”

Performance of In The Red consists of a group clad in red cloth costumes led by Atiku, parading through the museum space in both choreographed and spontaneous movement. They use red markers to draw all over a white wall with organic strokes, and write words like “anger” and “death.” In doing so, the group creates a new site-specific installation that bears physical and psychological residue of the performance that will remain until the end of the exhibition. Atiku’s work adds to the exploration of objects in contemporary society by reminding the viewer that the human body is perhaps the most significant battleground in the broader conversations surrounding global crises.  

See more of the performance here:

Material Effects from Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum on Vimeo.

Jelili Atiku, Red Day (In the Red #17), 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 7, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

Jelili Atiku, Red Day (In the Red #17), 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 7, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

Jelili Atiku, Red Day (In the Red #17), 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 7, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

Jelili Atiku, Red Day (In the Red #17), 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 7, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

Jelili Atiku, Red Day (In the Red #17), 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 7, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

Jelili Atiku, Red Day (In the Red #17), 2015. Performance at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, November 7, 2015. Photo: Aaron Word.

Material Effects is on view at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University through April 8, 2016.

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